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Meet Shayna Atkins of Atkco Inc in Chicago

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shayna Atkins.

Shayna, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve worked in product management for most of my career and truly love bringing products to life. I started Atkco, Inc in reaction to an international development project I did in Kingston, Jamaica working with entrepreneurs. I was working at Boys’ Town Community Center in Trench Town, Kingston working to bring their community experience online as well as coaching and training entrepreneurs. It was really hard work, but I loved every single minute of it and I caught the entrepreneurship bug for sure. In international development, there is always a concern of how impactful your project will be over time. You often go into these communities and the computer training facility somebody built 5 years ago is outdated, the basketball court from 10 years ago is no longer usable, etc. I could help build a product, but would the organization have the resources to maintain the domain, hosting, etc. I would often be reminded of Chicago’s west side, growing up in my parent’s businesses (they both owned successful businesses that failed when they were disrupted by rapid technology changes in their industries). I knew my long-lasting impact would be in my home city. When I returned, it was hard to readjust to the world of tech.

In 2015, I started Atkco, Inc. as a side hustle. The focus was on coaching and training startups in underserved communities, similar to my work in Jamaica. We started off on cloud nine, a social business making a big impact, we were even invited to share out the model at the Global Social Business Summit in Berlin. We thought we made it, but it was a struggle because though the impact was there, the idea was not focused enough on a particular customer segment and there was no sustainable business model. Meanwhile, in my corporate day job I was often the only woman, the only person of color, and though that had always been the case, I felt just enough pain to do something about it.

In 2015, I pivoted and started a women’s community, Queens Brunch, focused on creating a supportive space for women of color to realize their vision. Queens Brunch was truly my passion project. We brought together some fierce boss women and had influencers across the U.S. join intimate conversations including Myleik Teele or curlBOX, Chrishon Lampley of Love Cork Screw, and Lauren Ash of Black Girl in Om. We had a great impact, partnerships, and amazing visibility, but still no scalable business model. Last year, I decided to pivot again and really combine my strengths to create a scalable business model and make an impact.

In the product development space, I noticed how fast technology was moving and often found tech professionals struggled to keep up with the upskilling/reskilling it takes as companies experience digital transformations. I pivoted Atkco (again) to focus on training for technology professionals to excel at digital disruption. We train and certify professional who are looking to upskill or retool in technology adjacent roles like DevOps, Scrum Master, Product Management while coaching larger corporations on the same processes. In turn, we take a percentage of proceeds and connect back with the community to recruit internal staff through apprentice style onboarding, provide certification tech pipeline scholarships, and sponsor measurable, impactful events hosted by community organizations.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No. In my story, I described 3 major pivots, but if you take me back to the time when they were occuring, it felt like a major failure. I’ve been running a business for 3 years and was only in the position to quit my day job about 6 months ago. Working on a business as a side hustle is hard, building a team that will have your back in these many phases is even harder, but I have managed to slowly build Atkco to something I’m very proud of. At this point, I have embraced my journey in entrepreneurship as a commitment to lifelong learning and I am truly starting to enjoy the process. The big vision can be daunting, so sometimes I take it one day at a time. The day to day can be overwhelming, so sometimes, I have to lean into the big vision. This is not a journey of overnight success for sure and I am grateful for the many pivots.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Atkco, Inc story. Tell us more about the business.
AtkCo, Inc prepares professionals to excel at digital disruption. At AtkCo, we believe that every team member should have the skills necessary to proactively win at disruption. AtkCo, Inc. provides certification training, coaching, and staffing for innovative product development at scale in the Financial Services industry. Our e-learning platform connects companies to best in class, human-centered curriculum for emerging technologies. In technology, professionals have to constantly be building skills, embracing emerging technologies, and know what’s next. At Atkco, we stay ahead of the learning curve to keep professionals competitive and are invested in our community. You take a class with us and you gain a tribe of people who are looking to stay engaged, watch the latest trends, and find exciting new opportunities. Also, because I ran a brunch community, we make a commitment to bring good, local food experiences to our in-person courses cause that matters more than you think.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
It has been about being prepared for the opportunity. I truly believe in starting from a place of giving and faith. When I least expect it, I get some of the most amazing opportunities.

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Image Credit:
Amber Marie Green, Phorever August, Photo: Imia Holston

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